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Tipsheet

California Governor Wants to Tax Drinking Water

Bill Hughes/Press-Enterprise via AP

Coming from the state that wanted to tax conversations, it shouldn’t be surprising that another preposterous idea has made its way into the 2019-2020 budget: taxing drinking water. 

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The state’s new governor, Gavin Newsom, has proposed a statewide water tax that would create a “safe and affordable drinking water fund [that would] enable the State Water Resources Control Board to assist communities, particularly disadvantaged communities, in paying for the short-term and long-term costs of obtaining access to safe and affordable drinking water.”

This isn’t the first time a tax on water has been proposed—a similar measure, which would have imposed an $11.40 per year tax on California residents, was sought by former Gov. Jerry Brown last year but was unable to get enough support in the legislature. 

The Legislature scrapped the idea after protests from some segments of the agricultural community and the Association of California Water Agencies, which represents more than 400 water districts. It became clear that the proposal would have trouble it was proving increasingly difficult to secure the two-thirds super-majority needed to impose a new tax. Former Gov. Jerry Brown tried to resurrect the program last fall as a voluntary tax, but that died in the Legislature as well. (The Sacramento Bee)

Of course, there is nothing wrong with ensuring all residents of the state have access to safe and clean water, but many, including the Association of California Water Agencies, oppose the idea of another tax to do so. 

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"The vast majority of the state's residents have access to safe drinking water, but a small percentage of the population does not," the group wrote in a statement. "This unacceptable reality is a social issue for the State of California. ACWA believes that making access to safe drinking water for all Californians should be a top priority for the State. However, a statewide water tax is highly problematic and is not necessary when alternative funding solutions exist and the state has a huge budget surplus."

The statement continued: “ACWA wants to work with Gov. Newsom, his administration, the Legislature and other stakeholders on a funding solution that does not impose a statewide water tax.”

Republican State Assemblyman Travis Allen blasted the move, saying the idea was yet another example of Democrats making any excuse possible to tax residents. 

“In one of his first official acts @GavinNewsom wants to TAX YOUR WATER,” tweeted the Republican, who ran for governor in 2018. “There is no limit to what @TheDemocrats will tax or excuses they'll make to TAKE YOUR MONEY. It's time Republicans start fighting and TAKE BACK CALIFORNIA!!”

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Even Democratic Assemblyman Phil Ting of San Francisco said it would be a “very tough lift” in the Legislature to call for a tax on everyone in the state over a problem that is largely isolated to the Southern San Joaquin Valley and the Mojave Desert, according to McClatchy.

“It really comes down to how much time he and his staff are going to put toward it,” Ting said, reports The Sacramento Bee. “One of Gov. Brown’s strengths was really having a very narrow list of things to work on and get done, and because of that, he was able to get them done.” 

Now that Democrats have a supermajority in both houses of the legislature, however, it won't be surprising if Californians get one more tax added to the laundry list. 

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